You probably didn't even see it coming. It's just a routine office visit, and you're feeling fine most of the time. So it comes as a shock when your doctor glances at your lab results and delivers the bad news: "You have cancer" or "You have Heart Disease."

Cancer, Stroke, Heart Attack, Alzheimer's - these are frightening words...and with good reason. Take cancer for example. In 1970, President Nixon declared war on cancer and predicted that we would find a cure by 1990. But it's now 2008, and we're no closer to curing cancer than 40 years ago. In the US alone, one in three Americans are expected to get cancer over the course of their lifetimes. Currently cancer steals the life of one in four people; yet according to the National Cancer Institute, an astounding two-thirds of all cancer cases could be prevented with straight forward changes in diet and lifestyle.

Without embracing effective preventive measures, cancer rates could further increase by 50% to 15 million new cases a year by 2020, according to the World Cancer Report, the most comprehensive global examination of the disease to date. This is a frightening projection, especially since 2020 is not far off. Nonetheless, the report also provides clear and compelling evidence that healthy lifestyles and public health action by governments, health practitioners and the lay public could help stem the rising tide of malignant disease, preventing as many as one third of all cancers worldwide.

The numbers don't lie. While the death rates from other illnesses have steadily declined over the past 50 years, cancer remains as high as ever in the United States and other westernized countries. North America currently has the highest incidence of cancer in the world, while the incidence of certain hormonally related cancers such as prostate, breast and ovarian cancers in Asian countries is dramatically lower. Differences in diet and other lifestyle habits are the most likely explanation. Back in the 1980s, scientists reported that the incidence of breast cancer almost tripled in first-generation Japanese women who had migrated to Hawaii, and was up to five times higher in the second generation! According to the most extensive scientific report to date, entitled "Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective," which was released in November 2007 by the London-based World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, these studies "...prove that the main determinants of cancer patterns are environmental, and suggest that patterns of food, nutrition, and physical activity are important among these causes."

See report on Diet & Nutrition: Expert Panel Weighs In on Global Cancer Control. by Mark Mead - Environ Health Perspect. 2008 January; 116(1): A22-A23

The Cancer Research UK report showed that over the past 30 years, from 1975-2005, the incidence of breast and lung cancer has doubled around the world. Much of this growth is due to people living longer - as cancer is a disease which usually affects older people. But habits such as smoking and diet also had a significant effect.

The analysis also helped identify those segments of the population at greatest risk of developing certain cancers, thus helping to highlight ways of tackling those malignant diseases.
One example is colorectal cancer, once extremely rare in Japan. As the Japanese increasingly eat a westernized diet, rates of such cancers are on the rise. Similarly, breast cancer rates have steadily increased in many Asian cities as the western diet and lifestyle habits have been adopted. And breast cancer patients in Japan have poorer survival rates today than they had a few decades ago.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Vijaya Nair is an esteemed medical researcher and epidemiologist with a passion for integrating Eastern approaches with Western medical and scientific training. A native of Singapore, she earned her medical degree from the National University of Singapore in psychiatry. Dr. Nair later immigrated to the United States, where she received a master’s degree in epidemiology from Columbia University and completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School.

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